DyslexicProfessional.com - Dyslexia at work

To disclose or not to disclose? That is the question…

Dyslexics in business

I am, as you might say, an “out” dyslexic… so are a few of my colleagues… but quite a lot are still, “in the closet”.  Disclosure of dyslexia is a very personal decision…

If you talk to HR in many large professional firms such as lawyers, accountants or management consultants you find that, statistically, the number of dyslexics and others with cognitive “complications” is usually small, and not reflective of society at large.

So why is that? Are the numbers of dyslexics entering the professions actually quite low, or is it just that in a “professional” environment people are, for some reason, unwilling to disclose?

Dyslexics can’t get in to professional firms, right?

My understanding is that dyslexia occurs across the spectrum of IQ… so the problem shouldn’t be a lack of capability. Equally, there are plenty of studies and anecdote linking dyslexia with creativity, tenacity and with success. So I’d like to think that dyslexia is not in itself a barrier to following a professional career. It hasn’t stopped me after all and many of the people I referred to above have been more successful than I.

What about qualifications?

Conventional academic achievement is a big feature of all professions and a prerequisite to their entry. I know, from personal experience, that exam based qualifications don’t come easily for all of us – so that must reduce the numbers of dyslexics who can get through the door, regardless of whether they have any other exceptional capability. But it’s important that people don’t view this as a barrier – plenty of dyslexics gain excellent academics, particularly with appropriate time adjustments or assistive technology many dyslexics gain excellent academics. My diagnosis came some years after exams… so the road was a little more bumpy!

What about the recruitment cycle?

Is it possible that the recruitment cycle disadvantages dyslexics? This one could go either way I think. In practical terms, there are lots of different hurdles. One that comes to mind is the case study interview – a short time to read a reasonably long document full of names and facts in order to form a view or prepare an on the spot presentation. That could prove a challenge but of course you could always disclose your dyslexia, ask for more time, come prepared with your own laptop etc. However, not everyone would be comfortable doing that and it is hard to gauge the likely reaction of a prospective employer.

Dyslexics don’t want Professional careers do they?

The early years of many professional jobs enforce a structure and rigour along with not a little tedium that, whilst perfectly possible for dyslexics to cope with, doesn’t play to their strengths. It is only when they rise to more senior roles that most have the opportunity to routinely exercise the insight and perspective that dyslexia can bring or to demonstrate the value of their ability to empathise with and understand the way others “tick”.

What about large organisations?

A great many professionals are of course employed in very large organisations. This is in itself a challenge but I doubt that this is in itself a reason for low numbers of dyslexics joining. Whilst large organisations frequently come with enlightened HR policies and much good intent, they also tend to have more rigid processes, try to fit everyone into a standard performance measurement framework and generally find it difficult to fully exploit the potential of exceptional but “differently shaped” people.

Of course, this stereotype is not always the case – many organisations both aspire to better and go some way to achieving it, Equally, the employee is in no way powerless – we can can and must influence the outcomes that we get. This is where I believe good coaching comes in.

So I think the conclusion I am forming is that the low numbers of dyslexics within the professions is a myth… It is more likely to be a disclosure issue. So why would this be?

Ah… so they are here but are hiding!

So of dyslexics are present within the professions, in reasonably high numbers, why do so few disclose their issue/gift? I can only speak from my own experience but I think there are a few factors:

People don’t know what dyslexia is

Labels like “dyslexic” are so readily associated with stereotypes and these are often unhelpful or simply wrong in the case of any given individual. In my experience the practical implications of dyslexia are much more diverse than most people think and can be very different for different people. Disclosure therefore requires explanation and this level of openness with colleagues may not be something that dyslexics welcome.

Ignorance of the positives.

Dyslexia is often accompanied by strengths talents and capability that does not occur readily within more “conventional” thinkers. However, many people are not aware of this so disclosure is often viewed simply as a negative.

Why tell someone you have a weakness?

Professional firms usually measure people against competency frameworks – standard sets of “measures” or “attributes” that describe what everyone should be like. A reasonable concern would be that disclosure is simply pointing out weaknesses.

Bad past experiences.

All of the above can work out just fine for the right person in the right role in the right organisation. Education and the media are gradually improving public perception and awareness but, I have met plenty of dyslexics who carry with then the scars of less informed times and are unwilling to disclose for fear of getting a bad reaction again.

Don’t see the need.

If you are joining a business that sells brain power and largely recruits those with the best academic qualifications from the best universities then there is a disincentive to mention that you have a few challenges during the interview process. Likewise, if you can get through that process then you are probably a highly compensated dyslexic – you had good coping strategies to deal with weaknesses and potentially benefit from an one or more of the upsides of dyslexia. The bottom line is that you don’t need to worry about it too much so why make a fuss?

I know quite a few people in this category. I also know quite a few who were in a comfortable position and then something about their role changed, through promotion or a change of responsibilities and all of a sudden they needed help to mitigate hitherto non-existent problems.

So what’s the answer?

The downsides of dyslexia are very visible and frequently misunderstood, whereas the upsides are often less easy to see for those with a more “linear” view of life. So disclosure is not a decision to be taken lightly.

In the end, I think disclosure is a personal and necessarily situational decision. It is far easier to disclose when you are perceived to be successful and already in a strong position within an organisation or personally financially secure. Disclosure is of course a hard decision for those who are struggling.

I think there are two basic groups of reason to disclose:

Disclose for yourself:

  • to gain access to assistive technology or training that will improve your performance
  • to help colleagues to understand how to work with you most effectively
  • to help others understand why you need to work a little differently but that it is still effective
  • to help your organisation make best use of your talents
  • to help others constructively handle perceived performance problems

Disclose for others:

  • to help to create a climate where disclosure is regarded as acceptable and not negative
  • to provide positive role models for more junior dyslexic staff
  • to help break down the incorrect stereotypes that are often associated with dyslexia
  • to help others know where to go to access informal advice and support

Of course, this is my view and I’m lucky in that I work in an organisation that aspires to an open and accepting culture, one that actively tries to avoid the exercise of unconscious bias, has a network for dyslexic employees and generally tries to do “the right thing”. Only you can decide how well disclosure would work in your organisation but I hope, for the general good of dyslexics, that we manage to raise the numbers from where they sit today.

Similar posts
  • Celebrating Dyslexic Success I’m delighted to be introducing three fantastic speakers at the 6th EY Dyslexia Network Annual Event & Reception in the evening of the 13 September in London.   If you would like to attend please do get in touch via the form at the bottom of this page. The speakers In life we frequently find prominent [...]
  • BBC Radio 4 – Disability At Wor... Regardless of how successful you are, if you have dyslexia, you have probably experienced the disabling aspects of dyslexia.  Once there were quotas for employing disabled people.  Now there is equality legislation and protection from discrimination in the workplace.  Employers are naturally ultra-sensitive about this but what does it actually mean for people with disabilities [...]
  • Should we measure the performance of ... How do you measure the performance of someone with a complex pattern of strengths and weaknesses? Do you ignore the weaknesses and focus on the strengths, take an average of both or use some other method? Do you treat them as an individuals or compare them to their peers, who are likely to have a [...]
  • Meetings I’ve tried to assemble a few thoughts about meetings… what is difficult, what works well etc. I have split this post into three sections: before, during and after the meeting. Before the meeting… Organising and attending meetings… The first problem with meetings is that they need arranging. Multiple people’s schedules to synchronise, home and work [...]
  • Taking my own medicine… email m... Shortly after writing the earlier posts on managing a 50+ email per day inbox, I realised that I had listed a lot of great ideas that I wasn’t actually practicing myself.  So, I took some of my own medicine and put them in to practice. I an can happily report that my inbox is now [...]


1 Ping/Trackback

  1. 10 September 2012    

    I’ll take some of your suggestions and try apply them

    • David John David John
      12 September 2012    

      Please do let me know how successful you find them – am sure it’s not exactly the same for everyone…

      • 25 October 2012    

        When I went to school and had dieltcufiifs, nobody didn’t even know what Dyslexic meant. It was only when my son was 10 and had also some problems at school, that I realized that we both were dyslexic. He could be treated, (it just had been discovered as a disease), but I still mix up left with right and other little things especially numbers. But I am used to it after so many years and it didn’t cause me any harm in my professional career.GattinaABC Wednesday

  2. Rob Rob
    5 February 2013    

    I can relate to all the issues raised in this post. I was working in IT in a role that suited me well then a change in job role left me seriously struggling, much to the mystery of my bosses. Then in another job I decided to disclose my dyslexia to my employer for all the reason you set out, but they were not very well informed and reluctant to learn, I ended up on capability. Luckily for me a restructure throw up the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy.

    • 20 February 2013    

      As a reading disaiilbty that is neurobiological in origin, it won’t be cured, but students with dyslexia can learn to read. The deficits they exhibit, in phonological awareness (rhyming, manipulation of sounds within words etc) and rapid naming (how quickly the student can place a name to a symbol such as letters or numbers) will always remain deficits, but with direct, explicit and systematic instruction in a phonics based program such as Wilson, these students read successfully and give the appearance of being cured. As a reading specialist, I found a little girl to be dyslexic in March of her first grade year. Sadly, she had already given up hope to learn to read, as did her mother. With intensive instruction with a research based program, that student reached grade level by March of her second grade year we were all in tears at her annual IEP meeting! Her mother thanked me for curing her and asked how to stop her IEP. This would have been a huge mistake. I explained to the team that while she is currently on grade level, if she doesn’t continue to receive services as she had been, she would struggle to keep up that pace. Through the next few years that student will need to learn to read in a way that not all kids need, she will in turn learn the structure of language and why letter combinations make the sounds they do and how to attack words with more syllable types. While many children are able to pick this up with some instruction in the classroom and exposure and repetition, students with dyslexia cannot. They need to know the rules and armed with such they will succeed.

  3. Claudette Claudette
    15 March 2013    

    The fact that there is question on whether you should disclose or not; highlights that there is an significant and inherent negative attitudinal problem in the work place ( and the predominate medical model of what is or isn’t a disability prevails in society ) Consequently equality and inclusion is arbitrary depending on whether you have an employer who actual understands that people have difference in how they think and that does not make it a weakness but just a difference. Moreover even the Equality Act doesn’t do a good job in practice in helping high functioning dyslexics ( for want of a better phrase) I Know this from direct experience. I think it society is missing out on fantastic talented people. It is not whether you disclose or not it is whether you actually accept that dyslexia and other neuro diverse differences can be strengths in many situations.

  4. 15 January 2017    

    […] it as an excuse? Will they treat me differently? In the neurodiversity community, many who have professional jobs have adopted the LBGT term of coming out to discuss their considerations of disclosing as autistic […]

  1. Disclosure Dilema - Differently Wired on 15 January 2017 at 4:15 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Keep me informed

Follow me on Twitter